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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse - Tomb of Moving Stones

Yesterday we returned to the game store to play some more of the new D&D Encounters adventure Princes of the Apocalypse. Our store is having a problem in that there are too many players and not enough DMs. We have four tables and each one was either at the max of 7 or over the max. I ended up with 8 players. I have repeatedly offered to run a Thursday game for some of these excess players, but for whatever reason it is not happening.

In my opinion, the best number of players in D&D is three. Two players and a DM can also be fantastic, as it is a very intimate and comfortable setting. Once you hit five players and up, there is a lot of cross-talk and waiting for your turn, and it really slows things down.

Rules Stuff

I read up on a few things prior to the session. I re-read the Adventurer's League rules on being evil, as I have a rogue who last week literally wanted to rob a little kid. Zhentarim can be lawful evil only, so I read to him what the Zhentarim believe and gave him general guidelines on the lawful evil philosophy.

I also read up on polearm mastery. There is this variant human rule where humans can get a feat at first level. The paladin used this and took the polearm mastery feat, which allows him to take a second attack with the butt-end of his halberd each round. He can also make an opportunity attack when an enemy enters his reach if he chooses!

The whole thing felt a little overpowered at first level, but the butt-end only does a d4 and frankly 1st level was still very deadly for the PCs anyway.

Thoughts So Far

I haven't written a review of Princes of the Apocalypse because I feel like I should wait for the book to come out. I am definitely underwhelmed with this adventure so far, though.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen started out with a dragon and an army attacking a village. This one starts out with the adventurers in a (dull) town aimlessly stumbling on adventuring hooks. It feels very generic and uninspired.

The Players
  • Elf Rogue: Played by a 4th grader, her character's name is Lucky and she has a black cat named "Bad Luck".   
  • Dwarf Cleric: In real life, played by Lucky's dad. He has a scottish accent.
  • Tiefling Sorcerer: Middle Schooler. His character is apparently a jester.
  • Drow Rogue: Middle Schooler. Wants to be evil, but Adventurer's League rules restrict this.
  • Goliath Barbarian: Middle Schooler. Really nice guy.
  • Human Bard: The player is about 25 years old, knows the rules pretty well. 
  • Human Paladin: Played by the bard's dad, who played old D&D and is new to 5e.
  • Human Rogue: The new kid. Taking to the game very well.
Necromancer's Cave

We left off last time with our heroes exploring the cave complex that is home to a necromancer who calls himself the Lord of Lance Rock. They'd just survived a trap where zombies dumped rocks on them from a ledge.

They went through a tunnel and came upon a room with three zombies dressed in weird costumes: A bear suit, a lady and a jester. They sort of capered a bit. An odd encounter:

The players thought there was some kind of gimmick to the area (there should have been, IMO, but I couldn't think of anything good) so the bard started playing his flute and the tiefling sorcerer began to dance. The zombies attacked.

The adventurers killed them and explored a side passage that contained two iron chests. The Lord of Lance Rock watched them through a peephole, pulled a lever and activated a falling rocks trap. Most of the heroes made their saves. The chests were empty. Curse you, Lance Rock!

The heroes then made their way to a vast area where the Lord of Lance Rock does his necromancy. It's a big room with a lot of monsters - zombies, crawling claws and skeletons.

A battle broke out. A few PCs dropped and nearly died.

Once they were victorious, the heroes made their way to the necromancer's personal lair, which contained a pedestal made of severed arms (awesome), a hovering driftglobe and a floating symbol of elemental evil... which is an illusion (?). According to the .pdf:

"The significance of this sigil is explained in the full adventure of Princes of the Apocalypse".

The necromancer had 3 skeletons with him. Even though I had 8 players, I actually didn't add any monsters in this dungeon and it was still deadly. The necromancer fired off a pile of darts from his wand of magic missiles. He outright killed the Zhentarim rogue and dropped another PC.

The heroes rallied. The dwarf cleric called out to his god. He said: "Guide my bolt into this foul necromancer's lap!". He fired his crossbow. He rolled a natural 20.

I said, "Right in the lap!".

The new player rolled a critical on a skeleton, destroying it, which cleared the way to the necromancer, who was slain.

The heroes returned to Red Larch and rested for a few days. The Zhentarim raised the slain rogue.

I should mention that they faced off against one of my home-made earth-based random encounters on the way back: A groundhog emerged from the earth and stared at them intensely.

I know, my game is stupid. But it makes me laugh.

The players leveled up to level 2. One nice thing about this edition is that it literally takes 2 minutes to level up. Then we began part two of the adventure.

Tomb of Moving Stones

The set-up for this is really cool. A sinkhole opens up in Red Larch. A bunch of kids fall into it. The sinkhole reveals a dungeon beneath the town that some of the Town Elders have been secretly visiting.

The Town Elders secretly call themselves The Believers. There's these floating stones down there in the secret dungeon beneath Red Larch that they think predict the future. Recently, a weird priest showed up down there, who The Believers are scared of. His name is Larrakh, and he's secretly a member of the earth cult. So we're finally getting into the actual Elemental Evil stuff slightly.

So I run the sinkhole thing and I read the flavor text. A few of the Town Elders suspiciously try to keep anyone from going into the sinkhole. The new guy makes an impassioned plea which gets the Red Larchers behind him. Lucky and a few others go down, get the kids and bring them up to safety.

The Town Elders nervously discuss the situation. Lucky creeps around and eavesdrops on them, and eventually The Believers are confronted and the truth is revealed. The heroes decide to explore the dungeon.

They go down there, go through a door and come to a very long hallway with a ceiling that is very hard to describe. Here is the flavor text:

The deal here is that there are cages in the ceiling with plaster bottoms. If the PCs traverse the hallway and don't call out the password, a half-orc in a room on the far side of the hallway pulls a lever and drops some cages on the PCs. The bottom of the cages are plaster, so the PCs will explode through the plaster and wind up stuck in the cages.

It's a very cool trap, but it's tricky to describe. Art of it would have helped a lot. I knew this going in so I was ready to use the store's ceiling as an example (it has tiles).

Lucky decided to sneak down the hallway alone. Two cages dropped, but she dodged both! The half-orc ran, and she flung a dagger in his back.

The rest of the party ran to catch up, but the cages blocked their way. The goliath was able to lift each cage so the PCs could get through the hallway.

Lucky didn't pursue the half-orc. The room with the levers also had a poor kid tied to a stone. He was hungry and thirsty.

We were out of time! I like this scenario quite a bit. Even with eight players we were able to keep things moving.


Patrick Henry Downs said...

The jester, bear, and frilly dress zombies sounds like something from a Lewis Carroll story

Also, what city do you play in?

Anonymous said...

I curious what the final result was with the player who wanted to damage the party and be an over all jerk.

Sean said...

Patrick: Thanks for the heads-up on the source. We play in New York.

Anonymous: He went back to his usual table this week (he was looking at our table longingly). I talked to the players about hitting each other with spells and how it generally leads to a lot of problems, citing an example from a 4e encounters game years ago where a dude almost caused a TPK in a dragon fight due to hitting his allies with a burst over and over. After that 4e session was over, the players begged me not to allow that guy to play with us any more.

Jared Randall said...

I'm also running this adventure right now. The players are about to go back to Red Larch and discover the sinkhole trouble there. Good adventure so far, with the potential to be very deadly for the PCs if played recklessly. That's a good thing, imo...

It's funny, I've also got a bit of a problem with a new/younger player making trouble for the party, but with patience and much help from the other players, the new player is slowly learning to fit in, take on an appropriate role, and try to help out rather than hinder the party. It's a struggle sometimes... ;-)

Sean said...

Jared: In these public play games there's almost always some kind of player problem. This group is pretty awesome, though. It's too big, and sometimes the kids annoy the adults, but for the most part it goes very well.

Jared Randall said...

Exactly. I'm an educator, so I'm used to such things coming up and used to working through them. I hear a lot of DMs and players talk as if they should never have to deal with a difficult person, but it's a social game. That's what sets it apart. Cheers!

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